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September 26, 2013

The Age of the Spirit

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RMM and our sister churches in Nicaragua and Costa Rica are members of the International Mission Association, along with 19 other Anabaptist-related churches and mission groups from around the globe. The following article describes the recent annual gathering in Singapore, attended by RMM representatives.

By Jewel Showalter
CHANGI COVE, Singapore: It wasn't an ordinary annual meeting for the International Missions Association (IMA), but a grand joint assembly with more than 60 alumni and students of Bethany International University (BIU) August 26-Sept. 2 at Changi Cove, in Singapore.

Students trained at BIU serve in the Asia Pacific Mission (APM), one of the 22 member organizations of the IMA, an association of Anabaptist mission bodies established for prayer, mutual support, and partnering in the task of world missions.

Celebrating 20 years since their founding, APM/BIU hosted the annual IMA gathering and the Holy Spirit in Mission Conference with a gracious, Singaporean flair, enveloping the IMA in their own anniversary reports, teaching, and equipping sessions.

As he introduced APM/BIU in first-day opening ceremonies, Dr. E. S. Isaiah, president of BIU and director of APM, said, “Integrating the redemptive heart of God for the restoration of fallen man in the most contextualized and culturally sensitive ways – that's what we're all about.”

He went on to introduce the mission of the school 1) to train trainers to multiply national workers and trainers, 2) to prepare cross-cultural missionaries who are planting churches among unreached peoples, and 3) to equip “tentmakers” to multiply disciples in restricted access countries.

He reported that in the past 20 years BIU has trained trainers in 20 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America. They are offering this “leadership development” opportunity to all IMA members – giving members the privilege of sending leaders to be trained in the masters' level training program that is built on the foundational philosophy of 1) hearing God's vision 2) living by faith and trusting God for provision, and 3) developing Christ-like character.

The three-part training which focuses on academic development, spiritual development, and ministry skills competency is offered free of charge to students who are accepted into the program. One student from an IMA member organization is currently enrolled and three more from other member agencies are being considered for admittance.

Stories, reports, prayer requests, and ministry times spilled out as the groups flowed together in worship, teaching sessions, fasting, prayer, and country reports.

Dr. Winston Elliot, one of about 30 adjunct faculty who augment the work of BIU's eight core faculty members, spoke the opening day on what he called “the age of the Spirit.” Borrowing from Harvey Cox's The Future of Faith, Elliot said church history can be divided into three ages – the age of faith (early church to Constantine), the age of belief (Constantine to the 20th Century) and the age of the Spirit (20th Century to the present.)

Elliot explained that in the transition from the age of faith to the age of belief the clergy became professionalized and took the Bible away from the common people. “Western Christianity bought into the 'age of belief','” Elliot said, adding that the Protestant Reformation did not significantly alter this phenomenon.

By way of illustration he said that in many modern translations, Greek words such as brother, disciple, and saint often got translated as “believer” – further emphasizing the role of belief and the mind.

“But now we're in the 'age of the Spirit', and we really don't know what is taking place!” Elliot said. He cited humble, often uneducated men and women who have led powerful revival movements in Indonesia and China during the past century.

“They have defined the transition from the age of belief to the age of the Spirit,” Elliot said. “The greatest move of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost has taken place in China. The leaders were ordinary people, without formal training, but they walked in the Spirit. It was a 'bottom up' movement.”

Throughout the week, speakers focused on the theme of “Hearing and Obeying the Holy Spirit in Mission.”

As IMA president Yesaya Abdi introduced the week he said, “May this be a week of spiritual awakening for us. The IMA is not just about organization or entertainment. We've come with Samuel's spirit – 'Lord, speak to me.'” They were not disappointed.

Gerbole Herpa, a guest from Ethiopia, shared stories of his faith walk in pioneering new church plants in Ethiopia. Once he visited an unchurched community and God told him to begin by walking around and preaching to the sheep and the shepherds. By faith he took stones and marked out the site of a future church. Today the community has a church of more than 300 – with seven pastors.

Another day after preaching in a community he received a gift of 1,500 Ethiopian birr. He has six children so was grateful to have the funds for household needs. But on the way home God instructed him to give the money to two other needy families. He obeyed even though that meant he didn't have sufficient funds for transport home. As he stood by the road with his empty pockets, a van came along and transported him home – and then after he'd been home, praying for 30 minutes for food for his children, the manager of the bank came with a gift of 10,000 Ethiopian birr. He said an angel had appeared and told him to give the money to Gerbole.

“If we obey God in the small things, he can bless us in a major way,” Gerbole said. He added that he had wanted to come to the IMA meeting in Singapore if he could pay his own ticket. He reserved a ticket, in faith, and just two days before he left, God provided him with the necessary funds. Years ago when he stepped out to live like this he said God asked him, “Do you want to have a salary every 30 days, or have me provide for you every day?”

In his testimony, Antonio Ulloa, a staff member from Eastern Mennonite Missions who served as an English-Spanish translator for Spanish-speaking participants, emphasized that prayer is not just about asking for things and receiving. “As we grow in our faith, we hear God speak. We become active participants with God as we hear and obey.”

Dr. Tan Kok Beng, CEO of APM, summarized the theme of hearing from God: 1) it is the worshiper who hears the Spirit clearly; 2) the Spirit is Lord of the harvest and calls his people to missions; 3) Pentecost is all about missions; 4) God sets apart the best and the most gifted for missions. “Christians have no right to be anything else but missionaries unless God releases them,” Kok Beng said.

During a full day of fasting and prayer, participants clustered in small groups for prayer – pouring out personal needs as well as prayer burdens.

As a North American poured out her burden for the Somali people, Kenyan and Ethiopian prayer group members responded humbly, “Don't worry about Somalia. We're picking up the challenge. The Somalis are our neighbors. We can reach them more easily than you can.” They proceeded to share stories of ministry in the region. Together the group interceded for the Somali people and those working among them.

Later the groups gathered in regional clusters to pray for challenges such as escalating violence in Latin America. Adalio Romero, president of the Honduran Mennonite Church reported that a gang in San Pedro Sula had killed two of the Mennonite leaders and one of their churches lost 30 members because of the violence. People are afraid to send their children to school.

In Asia the group reported growing tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar. They asked for increased unity among the Christians as they face their own pressures from the aggressive, nationalist Buddhist community.

In Africa there is a growing vision for the many unreached tribal groups within reach of the existing churches – yet tribalism continues to be a pressing barrier and problem for the churches.

Peter Xu, an elder statesmen from the house churches of China, currently lives in the U.S., and has attended IMA meetings since 2007. In his remarks during the day of prayer and fasting, Xu spoke of the refining fires the Chinese churches have walked through. “The church was refined. The wood, hay, and stubble burned. There were no church buildings left,no pastors, no money, no hope. Only a pure heart was left. We became like the early church in Acts. We counted the cost and accepted the challenge. To suffer is beneficial so we can learn the righteousness of God.”

In 1964 Xu responded to God's call to begin assembling people again in homes and open fields. “We realized the church needed to care for its children so we began founding training centers,” he said. “Yet as young people moved out in mission they were arrested. When I came to help them I was arrested. In one location we were arrested ten times. But when the local people saw the persistence of the young missionaries, they wanted to know who Jesus is, and many became Christians. The joy of the Lord in the midst of suffering – this is our strength.”

Today Xu continues to equip Chinese missionaries for pioneering service both inside China and beyond its borders.

As the group continued to ponder the task of world missions, Penn Clark, an IMA member from Word of Grace Network, in New York, differentiated between being baptized by the Holy Spirit, the birthright of every believer, and being filled or inspired by the Holy Spirit for life-changing, game-changing moments of ministry. “We don't need a great outpouring, but momentary obedience to the Spirit's promptings,” he said. “God limits himself to cooperating with man. Angels can't do it. There is no Plan B. Can we be – 'a reed shaken in the wind?'”

In teaching on “The Urgency of Missions,” Dr. Isaiah said simply, “The secret of reaching the unreached with the love of God is John 5:19 – “do what we see the Father doing.”

God continued to cleanse, empower, and unite as the group shared the Lord's supper together on the last day of the Holy Spirit in Mission Conference. Wanting nothing to hinder the flow of the Spirit for the blessing of the nations, Carlos Marin Montoyo, president of Amor Viviente (AV), in Honduras, publicly asked forgiveness from Adalio Romero, the president of the Honduras Mennonite Church, for the ways AV had offended them.

“Brother, you are forgiven,” Romero responded, and the two IMA member groups pledged to walk in new fellowship as they collaborate for mission in Honduras and beyond.

“After hearing all the testimonies and lectures we are amazed by the quality of what is happening here at BIU,” Yesaya Abdi, IMA president, said. “I'm going to encourage IMA members to send more people here for training. We need more BIU's. We came expecting to be renewed – and we have been!”

As IMA members gathered for business and reports after the conference, IMA executive committee member, Henry Mulandi, said “Hearing about walking by faith and this whole experience with BIU has been a 'burning bush' experience for me. It's been a deep learning experience. I learn best when I hear about others who are working in similar tasks.”

Recognizing what a benefit the annual IMA meetings have been, the group pledged to shoulder more of the costs. Tetty Sinulingga, a pastor and church planter from Indonesia, said, “How can we change our beggars' bowls into bread baskets? We've begged too long.”

Introducing Andrew

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Andrew* will be serving as RMM’s Director of Donor Relations (50%) and as Rosedale International Center Director (50%). He began work on September 16 and is working out of both the Rosedale and the Columbus offices. Andrew is originally from Hartville, OH, and now lives in Urbana, OH. He is married to Dawn and is father to two-year old daughter Jasmine. We are thankful for Andrew’s background which has prepared him for this position. Andrew has had a heart for missions from an early age and in 1990 spent two months in the Middle East with RMM’s Summer Witness in Missions program. He went back in 1996 and served one year as a missionary apprentice. With his exposure to cross-cultural ministry, he will be a great advocate for workers. He also has a work background in hospitality and restaurant management which will help him in his roles in donor relations and the day-to-day details of running the RIC.

Welcome to the RMM family, Andrew!

*Name omitted for security

September 23, 2013

Answer to Prayer from North Africa

About a month ago, we posted a prayer request from Sara and Josiah* in North Africa. Today, we’re happy to report of God’s provision in response to the prayers of many. The following is a note we received from the family this week:

Praise God! We found an apartment!

Let me back up: a week ago we moved into a cramped but furnished apartment at the end of the street of the children's school, a temporary place from which we could continue the housing search. It's on the very edge of the town, "where the sidewalk ends,” a great place for children to explore. Though much of the area is filled with large walled villas, the place we've been staying is on an older lane that feels more like a village with chickens on the run and donkeys meandering by. We had spent the weekend at our apartment an hour away, but returned to the area Sunday evening with the plan of settling for a smaller apartment than what we had hoped to find, but something that would take the pressure off for a while. But while walking home from school with the children on Tuesday, Sara met a neighbor just around the corner from the place where we're staying. She and her husband had a three-bedroom apartment opening at the end of the month with some outdoor play space visible from the kitchen; just what we had hoped for! And next door is the abandoned foundation of a house, perfect for experiments in urban gardening, a home for my pigeons, future rabbits, etc. Several neighbor women have been very welcoming, inviting the children to play in the future "farm" area where we're staying now.

We're very grateful to have a place to settle into in about a week. Thanks for praying for that. The transition for the children to a new school has been going well, with the normal frustrations of adjusting to a new place. We invite you to pray that our children—and we—be agents of blessing as we interact with staff and students there. Sara is planning a visit with women from the health class, and I made contact with several of our project partners a week ago. We're figuring out how to make these visits, now much closer but without the support of coworkers that we've relied on in the past. Please ask for wisdom and grace as we work out the “new normal.”

Grace and peace, Josiah and Sara*

*Names changes for security reasons.

September 20, 2013

Holy Spirit in Missions

Nixon sharing dinner and stories with Yesaya Abdi from Indonesia and Adalio Romero from Honduras
By Tom Mast, Asia regional director

In late August, more than 50 participants from at least a dozen countries met together in Singapore for the Holy Spirit in Missions Conference sponsored by the International Missions Association. IMA is “an association of Anabaptist mission bodies established for prayer, mutual support and partnering in carrying out the Great Commission”. The meetings this year were hosted by Bethany International University and many of their alumni had returned from their work around the world to join the IMA participants and to share reports of what God is doing through the missions training schools they have established. Besides myself, RMM President Joe* and LAMP workers in Thailand Efrain and Nixon also attended the conference.

We heard amazing stories of church planting movements, listened to challenging sermons, and spent time praying for God’s work all around the world. As Joe noted later, some of the accounts sounded like they could have come straight from the biblical stories about Old Testament prophets. We listened to men and women, who are living in places that are hostile towards God’s kingdom, share matter-of-factly about God’s miraculous protection and provision.

Gerbole Kote, a leader from Ethiopia told story after story about how the Holy Spirit spoke to him and the ways in which God moved powerfully when he responded in obedience. In one instance he had traveled a long distance to speak in a church. At the end of his time there they gave him a small sum of money. He needed that money to travel home—and his family was depending on it for their basic expenses. But at God’s prompting he gave all of it away while he was still in the other town. After that he stood by the road and waited to see what would happen. Before long someone from his hometown “happened” to pass by and gave him a ride. When he arrived he went into his room to pray for God’s provision. While he was still praying his daughter came in and told him that a wealthy acquaintance (not a believer) had come to tell them that an angel had visited him and instructed him to give a sum of money—about ten times the amount Gerbole had given away—to their family.

The organizers had planned a full week of sessions, but I was most impressed by my interactions outside of the formal meetings. I sat with a brother from Indonesia—the world’s most populous Muslim nation—who talked passionately about the many Indonesians who are secretly becoming followers of Jesus. He’s convinced that the current religious percentages in that country will someday be reversed. He said, “We hear about the bad things that are happening around the world, but we don’t hear about the great things that God is doing!” During the week in Singapore that imbalance was at least partially corrected.

September 13, 2013

Book Recommendation: Risk Is Right

“One of my aims is to explode the myth of safety and to somehow deliver you from the enchantment of security.”– John Piper
Most of us play it safe. We are tempted by the idea of security and cozy living. Insurance policies help us manage risk. But… life is a risk! Living for Christ and being his hands and feet in a world that desperately needs His touch is risky business. The three young Hebrew men, as they were thrown into the furnace said, “Our God will save us. But, even if he doesn’t….” Esther, as she approached the King, not knowing what his response would be, said, “If I perish, I perish!” This little book, Risk is Right, written by John Piper (a quick read at only 64 pages), challenges the reader to go for those things that God has put in your heart to attempt. If you fail, you tried. If you succeed, you forever made a difference. It is better to lose your life than to waste it!

- Paul Kurtz, RMM vice president of new initiatives

Download a free PDF of Risk Is Right by John Piper

September 10, 2013

Love is a Verb

By Rachel*, Thailand REACH team

When I was first asked to write something about my experience in Thailand my mind went about one-hundred different directions. There are so many things that I could talk about, but for this piece I would like to share with you the most important thing that I learned on outreach.

Upon arrival in Bangkok, my team and I spent the first three weeks in intense language classes, and boy, that was a challenging time. After finishing school we began to teach English to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders at a wat (Buddhist temple) school. That is when I began to think deeply about the question of “what is love?”

The dictionary defines love as a “strong affection.” It also categorizes it as a noun. What I have found through my experiences is that love is not a noun. Love is a verb.

I feel love for my family and friends, but how would I feel and show love to a bunch of rowdy kids who would test my patience every single day? Jesus says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) This command is only behind “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind.” That seems pretty important to me.

"What happens when your neighbor is someone completely different from what you’ve been used to your whole life… they worship different gods than you, and values are different than yours?"
What happens when your neighbor is someone completely different from what you’ve been used to your whole life? What if you are suddenly inserted into a culture where English is rarely spoken, they worship different gods than you, and values are different than yours? All of my life I had the generic Christian life. I had gone to a good school, gone to church every Sunday, done the things that society expects from Christians. Sadly, I could barely name anyone that I knew who wasn’t saved.

God’s law doesn’t change just because the surroundings around you do. He is constant. I was confused by the world that I had entered, but he didn’t expect any less of me. The people surrounding me may have changed but they are still his children, created in his image, and loved by him.

Our team was given some attention-starved children to teach. Some days, teaching was wonderful, the kids where great, and it was fun. Other days I felt like ripping out my hair. The kids wouldn’t listen and were unfocused. I had to remind myself why I was there. God loves those kids as his own. More than anything he wants to see them in heaven someday. He sent us there to help accomplish his work.

Love wasn’t shown through words while we were teaching. Love was shown through hugs. Every day my team gave and received countless hugs. I am now thoroughly convinced that hugs are a universal language. Other times, we would spend extra time with a student trying to have a conversation. Taking pictures was another one of my students’ favorite things. Give them a camera and they would go nuts. All of these acts where small but hopefully they made an impact on our students’ lives.

One of the best memories that I have from our time teaching is a day spent with one of our first grade classes. We had finished with the lesson for the day, so were just spending time with the kids before we moved on to our next class. I picked up one of the girls because she wanted to be held, and just for fun I spun around with her in my arms. Before I knew it, there was a line full of little girls in front of me. They had seen what happened and they all wanted to be picked up and spun around. I went through that line multiple times that day. It seems like such a simple act, but love can be shown through something as simple as giving your undivided attention to a student for a few seconds of fun.

One of the most important things that I learned through my outreach experience is that love has no language. You don’t need words to express it. It’s a lifestyle. Love is how you treat those around you even when they are different from you. Love is a verb.

My name is Rachel, I am from Hartville, Ohio and I attend Hartville Mennonite Church. Currently I am working at a bakery. Next year I will be on staff with SEND Ministries and I will be filling the Food Services Assistant position. Some of my favorite things about Thailand were the food and all of the great friends that I made there.

*Last name omitted for security reasons.

September 03, 2013

Unexpected Generosity in the Kenyan Bush

By Amanda M.

It’s probably good that none of us knew what to expect when we tied up our mosquito nets and rolled up our grass mats that morning. Benson, our coordinator and the Turkana version of the apostle Paul, had been promising our REACH team in general and me specifically that he would take us out to one of “his” villages during our stay in Lodwar. Essentially, all of the North of Kenya is the desert and the bush, but I had been looking forward to a trip sometime out to what I affectionately call the “bush-y bush.” My love for adventure had had me yearning to accompany Benson on one of his nomadic pastoring treks ever since I met him four years ago on my first REACH team. I envisioned walking next to the Desert Boy across an endless expanse of desert kilometers, him hanging onto his indispensable walking stick and me hanging onto his infinite and embellished stories. We were finally taking a weekend trip! Yet today turned out to be not exactly what I had been envisioning.

For one, I had obviously been envisioning Benson being with us. Even though through many learning experiences I had become aware that holding expectations was dangerous, I still couldn’t believe it when he told us that he was just going to drop us off with two men from church at the home of a friend. Reality sunk in when his tan pick-up truck disappeared from view. Food, water, phone service, and transportation were all in pretty short supply in Kerio, and here we were basically until Benson decided to drive back over the non-road to come and get us.

This was our first morning, and all we knew is that Calystus and Francis were going to guide us to the even more remote village of Nadoto. Our predicted schedule of events involved leaving at 8:00, walking for six hours, and arriving by noon. In reality, it only took us two and a half hours to reach the pastor’s house, having amused ourselves during the trek by learning Turkana songs, asking each other questions about favorite foods, and looking at sand. We all welcomed the chance to rest afforded by the pastor welcoming us into his tiny mud hut, unbeknownst to us that we’d be sitting or sprawled there on the grass mats for several hours, waiting.

I like walking, but the mental energy it takes for me to be a team leader and sit and do nothing with absolutely no way to anticipate what’s coming next is a lot more tiring. I also knew that we “planned” to leave by 2:00 so as to get back to Kerio in decent time so we could prepare supper before dark, and then being given chai at 3:00 and still not having gone to church yet (the point of our coming) grated on my organized Western mindset. Not to mention we were all sweating to death, tired of the rumble in our stomachs, thirsty, and not necessarily looking fondly at the return 10-15 mile trek. Our attitudes were neither helpful nor commendable.

“And then everything changed for me. Maybe not suddenly, but God starting speaking to me, and that always changes things”
And then everything changed for me. Maybe not suddenly, but God starting speaking to me, and that always changes things. The pastor showed us the way to the church, which turned out to be a tree. A wobbly bench or two showed up out of nowhere, as did the few people who started congregating around us on the sand. By the time we started to sing, about fifteen very traditionally dressed women of indiscernible ages with a medley of semi-clothed children heartily joined their sincere voices to the chorus. We started a few English songs, they started a few Turkana, and we worshiped together; the God who made us all understood us all. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude that this awkward bunch of exhausted Americans in hiking sandals and t-shirts and this life-worn group of sandy Turkanas in bare feet and layers of necklaces were truly members of one family. I don’t think our lives could have been more contrasting, but the one thing we had in common was One who superseded all of the insignificant dissimilarities. Wow. Francis translated as I “gave a word” on the same idea of us being a family together, still overwhelmed by the depth of what could sound cheesy but in reality just makes me stop in amazement. Soon the meeting was over and we were leaving, but I felt like the women and I were somehow true friends.

Back at the pastor’s hut, we glanced at the sun’s downward trajectory and waited some more. Eventually, the pastor’s wife brought us one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten in my life. While we had been lounging in the shade of the house for hours, she had been out literally toiling away to prepare truly her very best for her honored guests that she hadn’t even known were coming. I’m sure she had already been up and working for hours before we got there, what with several young children to feed, but behind the scenes she began focusing on us right away. The river was several kilometers away, yet she never said a word of complaint as she had to lug a 20-liter container on her head back and forth so that she could cook and we would have water.

There was not a hint of a begrudging spirit as she liberally poured water to wash our hands and watched us guzzle her hard work on the spot. The chai she prepared was not only a labor-intensive process of fetching water and getting the charcoal “stove” ready, but it was milky and sweet, which I’m sure were resources more hard to get in the depth of the desert than we can understand. Apparently while we were still lounging around, she and her husband had butchered one of their most prized possessions, a rare and previously healthy rooster. The meat had been stewing in the most savory broth for hours; I’m sure the children could barely stand the tantalizing aroma escaping from the pot. As if this weren’t enough generosity, she also prepared chapati, a tedious tortilla-style bread. When she handed each of us our chipped-paint tin plate of steaming food, she was truly handing us her very best. The broth-soaked chapati strips and few chunks of bone-in meat and fat did actually taste wonderful, not just because we were quite hungry by then, but that’s not what made the meal unforgettably delicious.

“I’ve never had a more memorable meal because I’ve never been so humbled by being so honored”
I’ve never had a more memorable meal because I’ve never been so humbled by being so honored. I will never forget Rebecca, and I will never forget the way she prayed over the meal and lived out Jesus. No wonder Jesus was so touched by the widow’s two coins, because ridiculous and excessive selflessness proves real love. It was incredibly hard to sit there and eat what I knew took all day and more energy than I understand to prepare, to see the children peering in through the doorway when they’ve probably never eaten such a feast and I can’t give them any, to know this family gave not out of their excess but out of their blatant lack.

I’m not sure you can get much more out in the middle of nowhere than the village of Nadoto. Their theological training and religious knowledge come from a few meetings by a traveling pastor under a tree. Their clothes are scraps, their skin is weathered and dirty, their bodies are thin and worn. But they have Jesus. Their relationship with Him is obvious as joy and generosity are as natural to them as thirst and 115° days. As we said goodbye and walked the hours back to Kerio, my stomach still wasn’t necessarily satiated but my heart was overflowing. I have never felt so full in all my life. The white light of the moon lit our last few kilometers as I walked in silence, thanking my Father for generosity so genuine that it hurts. This is how He calls us to live, and I’ll always be grateful for the woman that exemplified this for me in the middle of the Kenyan desert.

Amanda lives with her husband Brian in Hutchinson, Kansas, where the sun and dust are pleasant reminders of the desert. She still loves speaking Swahili, walking in her Chacos, and drinking chai. As part of her attempt to stay connected with her family in Kenya, Amanda is selling handbags sewn by the women of the internal refugee congregation she and her team became a part of during their REACH experience. For more information, visit sharetheloadkenya.blogspot.com.